Here is the second half of this year’s roundup of new military history titles, covering World War I and World War II. The balance of the roundup appeared in the October 1 issue and can be found here. Look out also for LJ’s November 1 collection development feature on World War I.
WORLD WAR I
The Great War in 3D: A Book Plus a Stereoscopic Viewer, Plus 35 3D Photos of Men in Battle, 1914–1918. Black Dog & Leventhal. Nov. 2013. 176p. photos. ISBN 9781579129538. $29.95. HIST
A magnetically closing box houses a folding viewer and reproductions of stereoscopic views of World War I, both to a smaller scale than the originals would have been. They work just fine, magically producing 3-D views that document just about every angle of the war (they cover more than “men in battle,” and they extend beyond 1918), from its manpower to its equipment, trench works, battleships, hospitals, and home front parades before and after. The images are from the Allied perspective: those few of Germans show them either dead or as prisoners. The stereo photos and viewer are in flocked plastic housing that will not stand up to much handling, but the accompanying softcover book, The Album of the Great War, 1914–1918, by Jean-Pierre Verney, is underneath this housing. It presents a chronological “news” format, but in the past tense like conventional history writing, as the war proceeds, and includes related context. In between the “news” are illustrated features on particular aspects of the war, such as the Americans joining in 1917. VERDICT It’s unclear if libraries will be able to keep control of this—it may be better as a gift—but it will be sure to foster interest in the war among general readers. Recommended.
Hastings, Max. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. Knopf. 2013. 640p. photos. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307597052. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385351225. HIST
Hastings (Inferno: The World at War,
1939–1945) turns his hand to the run-up to and first battles of World War I. A theme throughout is the German and Austro-Hungarian brutality and moral culpability for many of the war’s horrors while the Allies’ political and military leadership was incompetent. Acknowledging that history has never come to a consensus about blame for the catastrophe, Hastings clearly sympathizes with the Allies and the soldiers and civilians who suffered the terrible decisions of their leaders. The Austrians, in their war against Serbia and Russia, combined the brutality of the Germans with the incompetence of the Allies. Hastings clearly describes the political background to hostilities without getting bogged down in the minutiae of Balkan politics. While he spends a good while describing the Eastern political situation, his battlefield focus lies on the western front. His descriptions of the battles that led to three years of trench warfare emphasize how military expertise did not keep pace with military technology at the turn of the century. VERDICT Hastings makes a very complicated story understandable in a way that few serious history books manage. An ideal entry into World War I history for general readers.
MacMillan, Margaret. The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. Random. Oct. 2013. 800p. photos. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781400068555. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780812994704. HIST
The question of the causes of the Great War has occupied historians for decades and promises to continue to intrigue. MacMillan (history, Univ. of Toronto), prize winner for Paris 1919, reviews the dynamic tensions in Europe prior to 1914. She reminds readers that the leaders of several European nations were dealing with such issues as fears of revolution at home and abroad while maneuvering for an advantage in the military sphere. The series of crises in the Balkans may have convinced political and military minds that any impending conflict would be of short duration. So, as MacMillan notes, the war was perceived as one that would have almost a cleansing effect on the European world. It turned out much differently. This book adds to a growing corpus exploring the war’s roots, including Michael S. Neiberg’s Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I, Frank C. Zagare’s The Games of July: Explaining the Great War, and William Mulligan’s The Origins of the First World War. MacMillan, who edited Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August and The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890–1914 for the Library of America, writes in a style reminiscent of Tuchman. VERDICT This is a first-rate study, necessary for all World War I collections. Highly recommended.
Mayhew, Emily. Wounded: A New History of the Western Front in World War I. Oxford Univ. Nov. 2013. 288p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199322459. $29.95. HIST
The stories of the men and women who cared for millions—yes, millions—of wounded and dying during World War I remain largely untold. Much of the archival record, personal, medical, and military, documenting that infrastructure of care has been lost. Mayhew (research associate, cocurricular studies, Imperial Coll., London; The Reconstruction of Warriors: Archibald McIndoe, the Royal Air Force and the Guinea Pig Club) tells the accounts of surgeons, nurses, chaplains, orderlies, regimental medical officers, stretcher bearers, and hospital staff who not only sacrificed their time and talent but often their own personal resources as they offered care on the western front. Mayhew has mined the extant record, including unpublished testimonies, to narrate individual tales amid the sheer enormity of the battles and the unrelenting numbers of wounded that often overwhelmed the medical systems in place. It was necessary to make do with the supplies, food, and materials on hand and at great personal risk. While we learn very little in terms of specific technical medical and surgical care, these voices of battle—resigned, happy, content, afraid, and stoic—give us a history of World War I that we have never quite experienced. VERDICT A fascinating narrative, taking readers beyond the battles in the trenches to the battles with life and death that followed.
Mosier, John. Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914–1918. NAL Caliber. Oct. 2013. 400p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780451414625. $26.95. HIST
For most students of military history, the Battle of Verdun is remembered as a single conflict that began and ended in 1916 in which the French—at great cost—won back land lost in 1914 to the invading German army. Historical revisionist Mosier (English, Loyola Univ.; The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I) contests this conventional view of one of the bloodiest battles of World War I with a new interpretation of established stories, data, motivations, and results. In Mosier’s view, Verdun was a series of at least eight separate and distinct battles that lasted from 1916 until the 1918 armistice. Further, he argues that based on his archaeological and archival research, commonly accepted facts surrounding casualty figures, battlefield and military command strategies, and combat history are all, and at their core, flawed. Early in the book, Mosier suggests not splitting hairs over finer details but then proceeds to do just that. While reexamining and reinterpreting are important aspects of historical scholarship, the evidence presented here is neither compelling nor convincing. VERDICT Of supplemental interest to nonacademic World War I military history buffs.
WORLD WAR II
Buckley, John. Monty’s Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe. Yale Univ. Nov. 2013. 368p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300134490. $35. HIST
The British effort against the Germans after the June 1944 Allied invasion has been criticized as too cautious, especially by U.S. historians. Buckley (military history, Univ. of Wolverhampton; British Armour in the Normandy Campaign 1944) takes issue with the criticism, providing a thorough reassessment of the British war effort from D-day onward. He points out that the British military adopted an operational approach reflecting its circumstances as the limited manpower of a small nation needing to fight not only the Germans but likely the Japanese later as well. Using artillery firepower and its own special skills in intelligence, logistics, engineering, and medicine, the British 21st Army Group under Sir Bernard Montgomery was able to marshal its forces to confront the German army at numerous points during those final months in the European theater. Buckley argues that the British military minds took a broader view of the fighting front and concentrated their resources at a strategic rather than a tactical level, enabling them to remain an effective fighting force through May 1945. VERDICT This highly engrossing history is an outstanding account of British actions in the post-D-day period and merits inclusion in all World War II collections.
Hartmann, Christian. Operation Barbarossa: Nazi Germany’s War in the East, 1941–1945. Oxford Univ. Oct. 2013. 208p. tr. from German by Alexander Starritt. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199660780. $21.95. HIST
In this English edition of his 2001 book, Hartmann (Inst. for Contemporary History, Munich) presents a significant overview of the Wehrmacht’s 1941 titular invasion of the Soviet Union and the subsequent years of slaughter. The Germans quickly smashed through the Soviet lines, but, without supplies and facing an increasingly successful and well-outfitted Soviet foe, they were woefully unprepared for extended battle. Hitler’s dream for Lebensraum (“living space”) did not consider conquered peoples, and his “murderous utopia” left no room for diplomacy. While the Wehrmacht itself for the most part did not participate in war crimes, this was a cruel period in what was already a bleak time in the Soviet Union. Neither side gave way easily, both experienced horrendous losses, and all found themselves at the mercy of totalitarian states at war. Once the war ended, with the Soviets part of the Allied victory, Stalin resumed imprisoning and deporting his citizens. Barbarossa was by then a long-lost cause, but Germany would rise from the ashes to find renewal and modernization. VERDICT Barbarossa left a mark on Europe and the Soviet Union, from which the countries are still recovering. An excellent overview of the war in the East, and its consequences, from both German and Soviet perspectives.
Holiday, Samuel & Robert S. McPherson. Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday, Navajo Code Talker. Univ. of Oklahoma. Oct. 2013. 288p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780806143897. pap. $19.95. AUTOBIOG
Holiday was one of 420 Navajos who served in the Marine Corps during World War II as part of a secret communications program that remained classified for many years after. Using a secret code developed from the Navajo language, these code talkers were employed to communicate quickly yet safely on the battlefield. Holiday is not the first code talker to record his story (e.g., see Chester Nez’s Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII), but his oral history, as recorded by McPherson (history, Utah State Univ.; coauthor with Holiday, A Navajo Legacy: The Life and Teachings of John Holiday) is not simply a war memoir but an exploration of his Navajo worldview and how that perspective influenced him during and after the war. In each chapter, Holiday includes a brief portion of the larger Navajo history and their origin stories. McPherson provides additional commentary to place Holiday’s story in further context. VERDICT A rather untraditional but very enlightening autobiography. Rich in details of Navajo tradition and spirituality, this book will appeal to those interested in Native American culture as well as those interested in World War II and the code talker program.
Holland, James. Dam Busters: The True Story of the Inventors and Airmen Who Led the Devastating Raid To Smash the German Dams in 1943. Atlantic Monthly. Nov. 2013. 464p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780802121691. $28. HIST
The daring night raid of May 16, 1943 (Operation Chastise), by RAF Squadron 617 breached two large hydroelectric dams and damaged another in Germany’s industrial heart. When Paul Brickhill wrote his well-known The Dam Busters (1951), much information about this mission was still classified. Holland relies upon the archival details made available since. He describes British engineer Barnes Wallis’s ingenious “bouncing bomb” design for the mission, the opposing views on its use, and the extreme dangers of the mission, flying at night only 60 feet above its targets. Holland also provides much detail on the differing personalities who argued over the mission, potentially hindering the operation. By contrast to some historical opinions that the raid was an interesting failure, he argues that it was a success, given the destruction with the loss of relatively few planes, while forcing minister of armaments and war production Albert Speer to divert work from other Nazi initiatives to repair the vital dams and factories. VERDICT This is a well-written study of engineering and invention operating under great pressure and the actions and sacrifices on both sides. For all World War II history buffs.
Hotta, Eri. Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy. Knopf. Oct. 2013. 320p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780307594013. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350518. HIST
In 1941, Japan was a resource-strapped country bogged down in a costly war with China. So why did it decide to initiate a war with the United States? Hotta (Pan-Asianism and Japan’s War, 1931–45) explores every aspect of this question. She reveals that many high-ranking Japanese officials had real doubts about launching an attack on America. However, a combination of weak civilian leadership, outsize military involvement in government, extreme nationalism, and bureaucratic inertia forced Japan down a path of certain destruction. Her book gives colorful descriptions of the various characters involved, from the common Japanese soldier on the frontlines all the way up to the emperor himself. VERDICT This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Japan’s involvement in World War II generally or its motivations for attacking the United States specifically. While scholarly and thoroughly researched, it’s also a highly enjoyable read. Hotta writes the story with a novel’s narrative drive, making it a real page-turner. Readers seeking a more concise exploration of this topic should consider Jeffrey Record’s A War It Was Always Going To Lose: Why Japan Attacked America in 1941.
Hylton, Wil S. Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II. Riverhead. Nov. 2013. 240p. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781594487279. $27.95. HIST
This book has three stories: the wartime actions of the men of an American B-24 bomber that crashed in the Palau Islands in the Pacific Theater in 1944, how their surviving relatives and friends coped over the decades with their loss, and how private individuals spent years trying to locate the wreckage and discover what happened to the crew. The switching back and forth among these stories can make it hard to keep the narrative straight. Hylton (contributing writer, New York Times Magazine) writes with some poetic flair about the beauty of the islands, the terrible conditions on the ground and in the air, and the hard work of private experts such as anthropologist Eric Emery and others in the last decades, as they searched for the missing aircraft. VERDICT For those interested in World War II aerial operations and the ongoing searches for missing aircraft and crew.
Lower, Wendy. Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2013. 288p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780547863382. $26. HIST
Lower (history, Claremont McKenna Coll.) undertook extensive archival research in European, U.S., and Israeli archives to address the “puzzling omission” of German women in Holocaust history. In introducing readers to SS wives, Red Cross nurses, clerical workers, etc., who volunteered to head east to newly Nazi-occupied territories, she illustrates the significant role of women in perpetrating the Holocaust. Some may have found what they witnessed abhorrent but felt little power to stop it (one nurse kept detailed notes but encountered little later interest in prosecuting the crimes), while others ignored the horrors. Some, like one Liselotte Meier, participated with zeal, following her SS love interest to the east to engage both in office work and in murdering Jews. Johanna Altvater Zelle delighted in killing Jewish children, then blended back into the fabric of society in postwar Germany as a social worker responsible for children. These women made use of the maternal stereotype to gain the trust of children who became victims. VERDICT Lower shows that the Nazi killing fields were not merely the isolated concentration camps but the occupied territories as well and that women played a large role, one that was neither punished nor subsequently studied. Perhaps that will now change.
Mitter, Rana. Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937–1945. Houghton Harcourt. 2013. 416p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780618894253. $30. HIST
The China we know today was forged in World War II. For Americans the war started with Pearl Harbor, but for the Chinese it was called the War of Patriotic Resistance Against Japan and it started in 1937. By 1941, China, at stunning cost in life and by trading land for time, had fought the Japanese invaders to a standstill. The war was a Darwinian test of adaptation in which Mao’s Communist Party and his People’s Liberation Army evolved into the instruments of power that transformed China after 1949. Mitter (modern Chinese history, Univ. of Oxford; A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World) gathers a generation of research and debate to weave new insights into a sweeping panorama. He spotlights individual heroes and villains, victory and disaster in battle, and international diplomatic conflicts while keeping the big historical drama in focus. U.S. general Joseph Stilwell, to take but one example, has been portrayed as the righteous scourge of Chiang Kai-shek’s corruption and unwillingness to fight Japan but here emerges as imperiously blind to the legitimate constraints on Chiang and as failing to understand Chiang’s strategy of patience. VERDICT Readers may quibble that China was not so much “forgotten” as bypassed, but this is cutting-edge history, and there’s scarcely a dull page. Highly recommended.
The New York Times Complete World War II, 1939–1945: The Coverage from the Battlefields and the Home Front with Access to 96,327 Articles. Black Dog & Leventhal. Nov. 2013. 480p. ed. by Richard Overy. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781579129446. $40 w/DVD. HIST
This well-priced large volume and accompanying DVD-ROM (not seen) presents almost 100,000 pieces from the morgue of the Times, with accompanying photos or maps, representing its war coverage for the duration, including pieces about the home front as well as the battles around the globe. After a generic foreword by Tom Brokaw, there’s a very useful introduction, “History in the Raw,” that explains the value of this primary source material on an epic we have sought to define and describe in retrospect over and over. Overy (history, Univ. of Exeter; Why the Allies Won) discusses the contours of communication about this war, from the simplifications pronounced by the “fighting powers” and propagandists, to the challenges of on-deadline reportage day after day. He reminds us of the many separate conflicts embraced by the name “World War II.” The pieces here in fact start with coverage of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and include several marking Germany’s post–World War I evolution and Hitler’s rise. VERDICT This is a book to lose yourself in, to witness the war transmuted into print for the masses of readers living through it and anxious to follow its twists and turns. No less fascinating as a study of newspaper writing. Essential.
Rawson, Andrew. Organizing Victory: The War Conferences 1941–1945. Spellmount. Dec. 2013. 368p. index. ISBN 9780752489254. pap. $24.95. HIST
What would it have been like sitting next to Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, George Marshall, or Joseph Stalin, making decisions on the progress of World War II and the fate of the postwar world? Rawson (Showcasing the Third Reich: The Nuremberg Rallies) successfully provides a window into history as it happened, using meeting minutes from each of 11 Allied wartime conferences, from just after Pearl Harbor through the Terminal Conference of July 1945 at Potsdam. Make no mistake: these are not boring meeting logs. Political machinations, arguments and prejudice, and even shocking suggestions about postwar populations are all here, edited and analyzed to give the reader important context while retaining the feeling of the original records. VERDICT Although the conferences have been written about extensively, having this material from and about each of the participants all in one place and so well annotated by Rawson is a boon. Coming through clearly are the personalities involved and how the Big Three felt about their allies, enemies, and even one another as readers witness their fascinating repartee. World War II buffs will find invaluable insights; scholars will consider it an essential addition to the literature.
Walker, John R. Bracketing the Enemy: Forward Observers in World War II. Univ. of Oklahoma. 2013. 296p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780806143804. $29.95. HIST
U.S. Army veteran Walker, who has a PhD in history, describes how the army’s Forward Observers (FOs) in World War II—soldiers on the frontline—directed artillery fire by means of actual identification of a target and by spotting where the shots hit. This now-standard practice was based on the army’s evaluation of the massive but often poorly aimed and ineffective artillery fire of World War I. Walker argues that, when combined with central control of artillery pieces and improved communication equipment, the new system significantly contributed to U.S. success in World War II. His case studies are the army’s 37th Infantry Division in the Pacific and the 87th Infantry Division in Europe, vivid demonstrations of how FOs brought deadly and accurate artillery fire on Japanese and German forces. In addition, Walker includes a brief overview of the history of U.S. artillery, the evolution of the FO system, and descriptions of German and Japanese artillery doctrine. His section on artillery men awarded the Medal of Honor emphasizes just how integrated FOs were with frontline combat infantrymen. VERDICT Covering a topic not usually addressed, this work will be of interest to serious World War II and U.S. Army history buffs.